By J. K. Gurner
Casey Jones was a serious baseball fan. When he was a teenage telegraph operator for the M & O railroad at Columbus, Kentucky, he had played with the baseball team. In later years he seldom got to go to the games unless he had a layover (time off) at Water Valley or Jackson, Tennessee. On one occasion when he had a longer than usual layover in Water Valley, he was asked to take a train carrying the Water Valley team to Jackson for a game. Casey jumped at the chance to get to see a ball game.
It was a Sunday in the summer of 1898 and the Water Valley shop team was scheduled to play the Jackson, shop team. The company had set a couple of passenger cars in the passing track. The team, families and employees who wished to go to the game were to be aboard by 6 a.m. so north bound passenger train no. 26 could pick them up for the trip. They would come back on train No. 25 that night.
Rivalry between the shop teams and between the railroad teams and municipal groups was keen in those days. Many a young man got his start with the railroad because his talents with a ball and bat were brought to the attention of the Master Mechanic or Yardmaster, who suddenly discovered that a new apprentice or switchman or fireman was needed.
On this particular Sunday morning fate intervened and passenger train #26 blew a cylinder head below Coffeeville and would be several hours late. So, the dispatcher called an extra crew and engine and sent them on their way. And, while you are at it, pick up three cars of soldiers (Spanish American War) at Grand Junction and take them to Jackson.
Casey, his fireman, John Wesley McKinnie, and the 638 responded and even with a late start put the team and soldiers in Jackson just minutes off #26’s scheduled time. Bob Ward, who made that trip, said it was a sight to look out the window and watch that little 638 balling it around the curves. He said it looked like a big billie goat all bowed up in the middle running as fast as he could.
That must have been day of glory for Casey. Not only did he get to see the team play, but also as a passenger train, he would have been given running orders with rights over all trains. And that was pure joy for a freight engineer.